No one would have guessed that behind the closed door of an Austin apartment stood the statue that caused Tyler Junior College so much speculation for two decades.
Sometime during the Easter break of 1995, the bronze statue of former TJC president Dr. Harry E. Jenkins vanished, with only tire tracks and an empty pedestal left at the scene. This remained one of TJC’s greatest mysteries until 2011, and theories abounded.
“For years people would come forward and say ‘Well, I heard a rumor about this,’ or ‘I heard a rumor it’s in someone’s dorm room,’ or ‘I heard that it’s in the bottom of Lake Tyler,’” said Fred Peters, Director of Public Affairs and Grant Development, “You know, we just were really to the point where we felt like well no one will ever know whatever happened to it.”
Little did they know that for the last 10 years, the statue was in the hands of Bernardo “Berny” Trevino and his roommate Matthew Remington.
In 2001, Trevino was working at an apartment complex in Austin when he was told to check on a resident who had skipped out on his lease. When he arrived to clean out the apartment, he came across a 300-pound bronze statue. When it came time to dispose of the statue Trevino found himself conflicted, so he decided to take it home.
“I used to bring home random things all the time, so when I told Matthew, he was just like ‘Oh what did you bring home now,’” Trevino said.
The two spent years searching for the rightful owner of this piece of art. However, as time passed their hopes faded and the statue became family. They named him “George” and put him on their patio, attracting quite a bit of attention.
“When we had a pool party, we put lei’s on him, and we dressed him in a Santa outfit for Christmas and decorated him for Halloween, too,” Trevino said.
Trevino lost his job in 2011, and it was suggested he sell the statue for money. He placed it in a garage sale and came very close to selling “George”, but decided to search for the rightful owner one last time.
Luckily, TJC President Dr. Mike Metke had joined forces with the TJC criminal justice program, led by Jason Waller, to reopen the case of the missing statue.
For the first time in 10 years, Trevino was able to put a name to the statue other than “George”.
Dr. Jenkins was president of Tyler Junior College from 1946 to 1981, and stood just over 5 feet tall. Under his direction TJC’s enrollment grew from 400 to 7,000 students. Jenkins played a large role in establishing the college’s athletic programs, as well as expanding the technical and vocational programs. By the end of Jenkins’ presidency, TJC was a multi-million dollar campus.
Because of Jenkins’ hard work and dedication to the school, board member Watson W. Wise commissioned Tyler sculptor John Harper to create a statue of Jenkins after his death in 1983. The statue was placed outside the Wise Cultural Arts Plaza.
A chance encounter with Trevino turned into a grand recovery of the Jenkins statue, now permanently placed in the east foyer of Jenkins Hall. It has managed to stay put for a year now, but the thief or thieves responsible were never found.
The statute of limitations on the theft of the Jenkins statue has expired, so no criminal charges can be pressed for the crime. Although the statue has been recovered, Tyler Junior College is still left with the question of who took the Jenkins statue all those years ago.